For years military service members and veterans have complained about a lack of parking at Tripler Army Medical center. Now, some in Congress want the Army to do something about it.
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case pushed for a provision in the fiscal year 2021 funding bill for military construction and veteran affairs that directs the Army to address parking shortfalls at the facility. The bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this month and is being considered by the Senate.
The bill calls for the Army to draw up plans for a new parking garage to fulfill the needs of both army and VA patients, including possible locations, costs and a timeline for completion.
“Parking has been a persistent problem for years,” said Vic Craft, a Vietnam Veteran and founder of the group 808 Vets.
Craft said that both aging and disabled veterans, including himself, often have to park far away from the hospital and that there are insufficient disabled parking spaces.
The facility serves as both a hospital for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. That means that the facility serves active duty troops from different branches, military family members and veterans – leading to a very large range of patients.
Craft said that parking garages nearby often don’t indicate when they are full, leading some patients to search for spaces that aren’t available. VA appointments are often made weeks or months in advance and missing one can mean having to get back in line to wait for another opening.
Tripler Hospital has a workforce of around 4,000 soldiers and civilians. It serves a wide mix of military patients including active duty troops, military family members and veterans.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Mo Radke, a Navy Veteran who works with troops transitioning into civilian life, said that in his experience much of the parking closest to the hospital itself is occupied by staff members’ cars, leaving patients to find parking farther away.
“It’s terrible to see wounded veterans have to walk all that way,” Radke said.
Hospital spokeswoman Kayla Overton said via email officials are aware of the parking problems at Tripler and “continue to explore options to improve the parking situation.”
The hospital has a workforce of nearly 4,000 people that include active duty soldiers, DOD civilians and contractors. “In an effort to address our parking shortage, we offer valet parking, provide a trolley shuttle service in the parking lots, and encourage carpooling and public transportation for staff,” said Overton.
However, as Hawaii deals with a surge in COVID-19 infections, many residents are uneasy about crowding inside of buses, shuttles and carpools. The military has drawn particular criticism for not sharing its infection rates with the public, though it does share data with Hawaii state officials.
Overton noted that the hospital has made several efforts over the past 15 years to increase the number of parking spots, but stressed that it’s not always as simple as just extending parking lots.
“When paving parking lots, there’s a delicate balance in preserving the historical significance of the area and conserving green space,” she said.
Overton added that engineers and planners are already exploring ways to expand parking, but that ultimately it’s up to Congress to find the money to make it happen and that “any plans would be contingent upon congressional appropriation.”
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local news rooms.